TROY – Those Eagles from Civic Memorial High intended to tie the Mississippi Valley Conference football standings into a nice, tight knot Friday night.
Yet Triad unraveled those plans and emerged as king of the six-team league.
The host Knights rolled past the Eagles, 35-13, to clinch the undisputed Valley title, their first since 2011. Triad improved to 8-0 overall and finished 5-0 in the conference. CM dropped to 6-2 and 3-2, good for third among MVC teams. Highland went 4-1 to take second.
“They made a couple of adjustments and we didn’t make plays all of the time,” CM coach Justin Winslow said of the Knights, buoyed by a strong finish.
The Knights erupted for 28 points in the second half to snap a 7-7 halftime deadlock. The Eagles got to within 21-13 with 9:23 remaining in the fourth quarter, but Triad tacked on two scores to secure its win.
“This has been a journey for us, not something that has happened overnight. We have worked for this,” Triad coach Paul Bassler said. “We knew that coming into this game it was going to be three teams sharing the conference championship or one team winning it.”
And that was Triad, which denied CM a portion of the Valley title since the Eagles won it outright in 2010.
“CM played hard and obviously, they are a good team,” Bassler said. “But I think we kind of wore them down in the second half. They had a lot of kids playing on both offense and defense.”
The Knights forced the fatigue factor with their running game to counteract the Eagles’ passing attack. In fact, Triad rushed for nearly 400 yards as quarterback Tommy Bauer and speedy runner Adam Nelson kept the Knights’ percolating.
Bauer, a junior, rambled 17 times for 149 yards and a 2-yard score in the third quarter.
“Bauer was the difference-maker tonight,” Bassler said. “He made some good calls on audibles and was good as distributing the ball.”
Nelson, a senior, galloped 19 times for 122 yards and four touchdowns: 7, 15, 22 and 5 yards. Four of those TDs came in the second half.
“They have a good team and they run the ball well,” Winslow said of the Knights. “But I thought we had a lot of positives. We just had some spots where we need to get more points.
“We have to make more plays.”
Those missed opportunities came in the first half. CM led 7-0 on Corey Price’s 1-yard touchdown run with 54.6 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Zach Williams’ fumble recovery at the Triad 1 set up Price’s score. Colin Hall kicked the extra point.
However, CM failed to score earlier in the quarter after driving to the Triad 2. The Eagles also got inside the Knights’ 10 less than four minutes into the game, but missed a field goal.
Nelson’s first touchdown, a 7-yard run with 33 seconds to play in the first half, enabled the Knights to head to the break tied 7-7.
“We definitely felt confident after the first half,” Bassler said.
The confidence grew as Triad increased its lead to 21-7. Then after the Eagles’ cut the deficit to 21-13 on Adam Hill’s 53-yard passing score to Dylan Sutton, the Knights struck quickly.
They returned the ensuing kickoff to the CM 32 and scored three plays later.
“We had the momentum going our way and they got it back,” Winslow said.
Hill tried his best to keep the Eagles’ going. He completed 23 of 36 passes for 285 yards. Brett Lane had eight catches for 116 yards and Sutton snared four passes for 81 yards and a touchdown.
Running back John Whitworth, a 1,000-yard rusher, was limited to a season-low 29 yards on 14 carries. Almost all of the Eagles’ offense came via the passing game. In addition to Williams’ fumble recovery, Rikki Lafferty boosted the defense by providing an interception.
“It was an emotional loss, but we will regroup and be fine,” Winslow said.
CM entertains Mount Zion in a nonconference game next Friday and then will prepare for the IHSA playoffs. It’ll be the Eagles first postseason appearance since 2010.
Triad, meanwhile, plays host to nonconference foe Belleville Althoff next Friday in the battle of unbeaten. There’s plenty at stake for the Knights.
“We’ve never had an undefeated regular season,” Bassler said of the program, which dates to 1967. “We have been 8-0, but never 9-0.”
TRIAD 35, CM 13
CM 7 0 0 6 – 13
Triad 0 7 14 14 – 35
CM – Corey Price 1 run (Colin Hall kick), :54.5
T – Adam Nelson 7 run (Collin Black kick), :33.0
T – Tommy Bauer 2 run (Black kick), 9:35
T – Nelson 15 run (Black kick), 3:32
CM – Dylan Sutton 53 pass from Adam Hill (kick failed), 9:23
T – Nelson 22 run (Black kick), 7:46
T – Nelson 5 run (Black kick), 3:00